How Not to Let Teens’ Resistance Stand in the Way of Successful Parenting

The greatest salespeople in the world love resistance sometimes called objections, from their potential customers. They know that when people are questioning the wisdom of making a purchase, they are actively engaged in the sales process and are moving closer to making the buying decision. What these sales people dread are potential customers that are yessing the sales person to death.  They know that those people are probably harboring doubt. Without expressing questions and getting answers, they will probably be ruled by their doubt and back out of the sales at the last moment.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a very learned Indian guru, observed that there are two ways to get to believing: Belief through dogma and belief through doubt.  He stated that people who form a belief after having their doubts addressed, tend to have an unshakeable belief whereas those who formed a belief by blindly accepting the dogma of some person of high regard tend to drop the belief if a traumatic situation occurs to challenge the belief or if their faith in the person the so highly regarded is shattered due to the person’s misdeeds

Great therapists operate under the principle that there is no such person as a resistant client, only therapists that are not flexible and innovative enough to figure out new ways to join their clients where they are and lead them out of their dilemmas.  The same holds true for great parents of teens and young adults. They recognize that the behavior normally labeled resistance, recalcitrance or stubbornness is actually the traits of a questioning youth that is very much engaged in the process of learning and growing up.  Great parents know that if the answer to “why do I need to do that?” is “because I said to,” that the chances for compliance are slim. To label that as resistance and push harder by talking louder and/or handing out punishments, is a prescription for minimal compliance at best and even greater push back by the teen, at worst.

This is the part of parenting adolescents that is the most challenging. It is much harder to figure out how to really explain and give convincing reasons for a simple request than just issuing an order.  For those parents who still expect their teens to be the same blind follower of orders that they were at ten years old, this locking of horns leads to parental burn-out and sometimes resorting to corporal punishment.

Parents need to understand that their teen’s resistance is a signal that the parents need to figure out better approaches and explanations, and that it is most important that their teens have a good answer to the “why’s” so they can eventually be their own parent. Once parents realize that this process is part of the educating function of parenting and not the discipline function, this part of the parenting game can actually be both winnable and fun to play.  As challenging as this process is, when parents see their teens beginning to do the responsible thing without prompting, they will have inner satisfaction of knowing that this way of parenting is definitely worth playing.

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